Barely 200 students will start fast-track teacher training this September despite a massive investment of time and resources in the scheme by universities and government.
More than 1,500 people applied to be part of the elite cadre, yet latest figures show that eight of the 10 training providers now expect around 151 fast-track students between them - an average of 19 each.
One, Warwick University, has been told to expect only four when it had been planning for 14 high-fliers. Professor Jim Campbell, head of Warwick's school of education, said: "It's very disappointing given the time and effort we have put into it. It makes the additional training we are providing entirely uneconomic."
The university is still waiting to hear why the numbers are so low. Prof Campbell said he understood students had withdrawn, but had not been advised whether they had taken up alternative courses or dropped out of teacher training altogether.
However, other providers say they have been impressed by the recruitment process and the quality of candidates coming through.
Ministers have been careful not to set a target for fast-track recruitment, saying decisions will be based o quality not numbers. Recruits are selected by a two-day graduate assessment programme and university interview.
But, in the long term, the Government expects up to 5 per cent of the teaching force to go through the fast-track programme - qualified teachers as well as students.
Costs of the scheme include pound;9.2m over three years to recruitment firm Interactive Skills, which developed and runs the fast-track recruitment process; pound;5,000 on top of the basic training bursary and a laptop for all students; and top-up funding for the university providers.
The Department for Education and Employment declined to comment on the figures collected by The TES (see left). Meanwhile, the providers and the DFEE are still finalising fast-track course details, and how students will be assessed. An external agency may be involved in judging whether students are doing well enough to stay on the fast-track scheme.
WHERE THE FAST-TRACKERSARE HEADED
Bath Spa - 20
Brighton - 10
CambridgeHomerton - 37
Canterbury - 10
Durham - 20
London University Institute of Education - 50
Warwick - 4
(Unknown - Manchester Metropolitan and Oxford).